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Trump Administration Revokes Lead Bullet Ban, But California's May Hold

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When California's turkey season opens in March, hunters will be required to use nontoxic bullets. (Dave Doe/Flickr Creative Commons)

In one of his first acts as the nation’s new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke overturned one of the Obama Administration’s final acts, banning the use of lead bullets for hunting on wildlife refuges.

The ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle was enacted the day before President Obama left office, and applied to federal wildlife refuges and any other lands where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates hunting and fishing.

Critters at Risk

It was intended to prevent fish, birds and other animals from being poisoned by the lead left behind in carcasses, on the ground or in water. Hunting groups rallied against the ban, calling it an “assault on gun owners’ and sportsmans’ rights.”

Covering the story today, The Hill quoted Zinke as saying the ban was enacted without adequate public input:

“After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders,” Zinke wrote in his order.

Zinke also signed an order Thursday asking agencies within his purview to find ways to increase access to outdoor recreation on the lands they oversee.

“It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite,” he said in a statement. “This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community’s voice is heard.”

In his confirmation hearing, Zinke made it clear that removing hurdles to hunters and anglers on federal lands would be one of his highest priorities.

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California’s Stake

It’s unclear whether a 2013 state ban on lead ammunition will be affected by Zinke’s order. California’s law phases in rules that, by 2019, will prohibit lead ammunition for hunting all birds and mammals anywhere in the state, including on federal lands.

A spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said today that agency officials feel confident the state rules will not be undone by today’s federal action.

The law was spearheaded in large part to protect the threatened California condor. Scientists say their recovery has been hampered by lead poisoning, because the scavengers ingest lead bullet fragments in carcasses or entrails left behind by hunters.

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